By Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
October 12, 2020
One of the City of Fernandina Beach’s most senior department directors will retire at the end of October this year. John Mandrick, who has led the City’s Utilities Department through many service changes and upgrades, will trade in his hard hat for hiking boots and a kayak paddle as he transitions to life as an outdoor active retiree. He will continue living on Amelia Island and devoting more time to his family and his volunteer interests in the local community.
Mandrick, who came to the city in 1998, graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in electrical engineering and a minor in mathematics. In his City position he has amassed many more licenses and professional certifications from the state of Florida to help him manage a department charged with stewardship over one of the most important ingredients of our lives: water. He has also successfully managed City Enterprise Funds associated with the provision of utility service, leaving them in the black with healthy reserves.
Recently I posed several questions to Mandrick to better gauge the progress the Utilities Department has made under his leadership. My questions and his responses appear below.
1. What were the major challenges facing you when you took on the job of Utilities Director and how did you address them?
Upgrading a 1955 Sewer system, providing sewer service to Isle De Mai Subdivision, resolving flooding issues on 1st Ave, and terminating City run Garbage Service are just a few of the issues back in 2003. Sewer system had 21 out of 37 Lift stations rebuilt with generators. The very first item I dealt with was giving the news to the City Garbage Workers that their jobs were being replaced by a contracted service. The employees were given an option to either work on a 3-mile sewer extension or go to work for Waste Management. Immediately after I was hired, I terminated the Engineering Firm tasked with sewer projects. I then took over the design and installation of all sewer projects. Sewer service was provided to the new Subdivision on Bailey Rd. under budget and on time. In addition, all the major upgrades to the sewer plant and system were completed by 2010. The flooding of 1st Ave was mitigated in 2003 with my design of a French drain system under budget. All the initial challenges were dealt with quickly and efficiently.
2. How has the provision of water and sewer services changed/improved ?
In 1998 when I moved to Fernandina Beach the water treatment system consisted of two Water Plants that were at end of useful life. Both Water Plants were upgraded in 1998 and 1999 with a third new plant built in 2001. The replacement of outdated chlorine dosing equipment and adding a new 500,000-gallon water tower in 2000 improved water pressure and water quality. The old water tower built in 1933 was only 75,000 gallons. The sewer system was in terrible shape in 2003 with no major improvements since 1955. Routinely during holidays there would be overflows of sewer all over town especially on South Fletcher. During power outages it was total chaos with Lift stations having no power and no alarm systems. Now we have a fully automated generated backup sewer system that calls out when there are problems. Our crews can use smart phones to access all the data and control stations as needed. The State of Florida recognized our improvements and allowed us to reduce the mandatory staffing from 16 hours a day to 8 hours a day. The sewer system in Old Town was completely replaced at no cost to the residents. We no longer need to fear Holiday weekends or power failures.
3. What do you see as the major challenges (if any) our public utilities will face in the next 5-10 years?
4. Major accomplishments during your tenure.
I have participated in literally hundreds of major projects over the years but in the last year my two major accomplishments were finishing the Solar power system for the Wastewater Plant site and adding a new Solar power system and reservoir at our #3 Water Plant.
5. Were there any goals or projects that you were not able to get done, but you wish to see your successor complete?
There will always be items to improve upon in both the Water and Sewer systems. I am happy to be leaving a system in much better shape than I found it.
6. What are your plans for retirement?
With two sons and three grandchildren living on Island, I plan on staying here the rest of my life. I plan to be hiking the whole Appalachian Trail, finishing the Florida Trail, and finishing the Kayak Florida Circumvent Trail. I enjoy the community and look forward to staying engaged with volunteer opportunities.
City Manager Dale Martin marked Mandrick’s retirement and acknowledged his service to the City. He wrote, ”When the City completed the acquisition of the water and sewer systems from Florida Public Utilities (FPU), Mr. Mandrick also transitioned from FPU to the City. Under his direction, the utilities systems have been well-maintained, improved, and expanded. His efforts to incorporate solar energy to power much of the utilities’ infrastructure have resulted in recognizable savings to the Utilities Department. As the systems engineer, his experience will be missed, but through his training and oversight, he leaves capable managers and operators that will continue to serve the City well.”
We at the Fernandina Observer thank John Mandrick for his exceptional service to our city and wish him continued fulfillment in his retirement.